Full text of "Argus"
Northwestern State University's
Annual Art and Literary Magazine
First and foremost, we'd like to t
iidents of Northwestern who s
' her or not your work was acce,
ibutions, the Argus could not c
:h great material to choose froi
ie Kane, thank you for all your
t the publication process. Your en.
ro Argus are unwavering.
to thank all of our wonderful judg^
eative expertise, and judgment to the m
as invaluable. To these scholars who sacritict^
nds to the cause, we are in your debt.
Ks to Katie Magana, the previous Argus editor, for all of
,r help and advice. Without her experienced guidance, this
sue would not have been possible. Thank you to Larrie King,
evious design editor, for all of his assistance in developing
e design of this issue.
Thank you to all the faculty of the Department of Language
and Communication and the Fine and Graphic Arts Depart-
ment for your continued support of the Argus and for encour-
aging students to submit their work.
Lastly, we thank you, the reader. Many in today s society seem
to neglect or even frown upon artistic or intellectual pursuits.
But you, dear reader, have bravely taken up the cause to read
and share in the Argus Literary Magazine. Written b^' '^^^^ '^''
dents, for the students.
I chose Perspectives as this year's theme for several reasons. The
word itself can be seen from many angles, having literary, artistic,
and philosophical meanings. I was particularly interested in
Nietzsche's concept of perspectivism— the idea that each
individual has his own version of truth, her own unique way of
seeing and interpreting the world. We all see the world from our
own unique viewpoint. When we create art, or write stories or
poetry, we are bringing a particular perspective to life. We can
express our own feelings on life, or create something new, entirely
from our imaginations.
I'd like to thank my wonderful staff who helped choose all of the
great selections included in this issue, and my design editor who
came up with the attractive feather design. I'd especially like to
thank my assistant editor, John Lewis, who was always supportive
and there to pick up the slack when the responsibilities of putting
the magazine together became overwhelming.
I'm so excited to be able to allow each of these authors and artists
to share their ideas and creative talent with a larger audience. I
hope the readers of this issue enjoy the perspectives presented and
experience new ways of looking at the world.
When Amy roused me from my thousand year slumber and
asked if I wanted to serve as the assistant editor of the Argus
Literary Magazine, I was delighted. I was especially delighted
when she informed me that it was a paid position, but mostly
because of the opportunity to work on the Argus. The Argus
has given me many opportunities in the past to get my own
work published, so I was pleased to give a little bit back to the
Writing is a passion of mine. It runs through my blood like
magma, boiling and frothing in a manner unseemly. Plus, it
distracts me from the voices that tell me to kick over trash
cans and steal people's cats. The Argus is a literary magazine
that has a prestigious history, and, as a writer, I take great
pride in being able to give my fellow students the chance to
have their creative voices heard.
Though this is my first, and last, year as assistant editor, I
take an almost uncomfortable amount of satisfaction in being
able to contribute to this magazine. I'm very thankful for the
opportunity given to me to help bring this magazine together.
I'm thankful for being able to work with such a very excel-
lent staff. But mostly, I'm thankful for the small fortune in
paperclips I've smuggled out of the Argus office throughout
Caitlin Pearce Design Editor
I think designing for the Argus has been a great experience for
me. It has taught me things about designing that I do not think I
would have learned in the classroom. It challenged me to work
within strict deadlines and work within a business-like
Since the theme of the Argus this year was Perspectives, I
wanted to design it with a kind of ambiguous nature. I created
the cover as a colorful peacock feather that represents the his-
tory and background of the Argus. Then on the inside I used
different types of feathers on title pages, headings, and page
backgrounds to combine the Argus and the theme together.
My thought process was "birds of a feather, flock together."
There are so many different species of birds and they all lead
different lives. It is the same for humanity and the perspectives
we take on life and our experiences.
Dr. Lisa Abney
Dr. Lisa Abney has a Ph.D. in English, an M.A. in English,
and a B.A. in Modem Languages. She teaches courses in
linguistics and folklore. Currently, she is serving as the
advisor to Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society.
Dr. William Broussard
Dr. William Broussard graduated from Louisiana Schol-
ars' College at NSU and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Eng-
lish from the University of Arizona. He is an Associate
Athletic Director for External Relations and Assistant
Professor in the Language and Communication Depart-
ment at NSU.
Lori LeBlanc is a former first place winner of the Argus
Creative Nonfiction award and now teaches at NSU.
When she is not working with her students she can often
be found in her backyard on the Cane River Lake with her
wonderful brood of three, loving partner, and Aussie dawg
friends. She is also an aspiring mermaid-splish-splash.
Andi Boyd is a past editor of Argus Literary Magazine and
graduate of NSU. She is currently in her final semester at Texas
State University where she is working towards her M.F.A. in
Pamela J. Francis teaches composition and 20th century lit-
erature at NSU. She has engaged with the Modernist poets her
entire life, but has recently become infatuated with the French
Symbolists. Her one and only creative claim to fame is the
publication of her poem "You Said" in the back pages of a
1983 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Michelle Pichon is an instructor in the Language and Com-
munication Department. She also writes creatively and has
had several poetry publications. In 2009, she was selected for
Country Roads Magazine's Regional Writers edition.
Nahla Mary Beier has a Ph.D. in English Renaissance from the
University of Virginia, is married with three children, and now
lives in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she teaches English at
a residential school for gifted students. Her creative nonfiction
has been featured in many publications.
Art and Photography
Michael Yankowski has degrees from the University of Wis-
consin and Louisiana Tech, and has been teaching art at NSU
Larrie L. King Jr. is the Assistant Professor of Design for the
NSU Department of Fine & Graphic Arts. He earned both
his B.F.A. and M.A. degrees at NSU in Graphic Communi-
cations, and served as Design Editor for the Argus for three
Leshe Gregory Gruesbeck serves as Assistant Professor
of Art and Gallery Director for the Department of Fine &
Graphic Arts. The Argus is a publication near to her heart as
she served as editor of the publication for two terms.
Brooks DeFee is a master draftsman and the watercolor guru
1 St Place
Sestinafor Moartea - Amanda Sabala
Something Went Wrong - Dustin Burris
Vipers - Stephanie Branch
Awkward - Patricia Doughty
1 St Place
Say Yes, Clairee - Tammy Roton
Undefeated - Si Tucker
August 16, 1995 - Si Tucker
1 St Place
The Bust of Louis St. Denis - Thomas Parrie
The Paper Boomerang - Thomas Parrie
Tobacco Cure - Kristina McBride
The Happiest Robot - John Lewis
The Russian F/ow^r-Margaret J. Rodriguez
Taking Back Fairy Tales - Mary Hebert
Hardwired - Katie Magana
Everything Below - Katie Magaiia
Parade Route - Mary J. Rodriguez
16 Sestina for Moartea
17 Big Motion
•. Lori JeriKins
'f|, 18 Harmony
19 Something Went
21 Inane Vane
Laura J. Emahiser
22 Heavenly Night Sky
Ashton Lace Ebarb
23 Bar Fight
24 Addicts Anonymous
26 Normal Hill
27 The Change
32 Left Over Locks
34 The Steel Horse
38 Fallen Grandeur
39 Car Wash Epiphany
40 Flight Patrol
41 Who Are You?
42 The Farmer
48 The Cello Speaks
50 Because He Could
Not Stop For Death,
1 Kindly Waited with Him
Amy El lender
51 My Letter to the
52 Birth of an Incubus
53 Her Thoughts, Set Free
54 Metamorphic Process
of an Argument
I; 55 This Page is a
Placeholder for the Poem
I'm Supposed to Write
57 You 'n' Me, Pluto.
You 'n' Me.
61 The Happiest Robot
62 The Russian Flower
Margaret J. Rodriguez
63 Taking Back
65 Black Lake
67 Everything Below
68 Parade Route
Margaret J. Rodriguez
69 Manning the Rails
78 The Cedar in
the Fence Row
81 Say Yes,Clairee
86 Modus Operandi
90 History Class
91 August 16, 1995
94 Sweet Captivity
98 The Bust of
Louis St. Denis
100 The Paper Boomerang
104 How to Eat Cereal
106 Tobacco Cure
108 The Searcher
I am a student of creation, who travels west,
but my ink runs out and turns dusky green.
Words are my essence, but I can't script them on the wall
that towers in my mind. It's there a soft lily
sprouts out and away from letters. It's here, the sun
plummets through plated wood... and it's so sad,
sad, sad, so very, pathetically sad.
How can I read what goes west?
There is no light, no hope, no sun!
You can't read; I can't read; no one can see in green.
There are no more springing... a lily.
Yet, I can see it fall; a crumbling, small wall.
Creations continue forward, waiting for a brick wall
to stop the full, ongoing, unending, wretched sad
fall. What is appropriate? you ask. An unopened lily,
for it will always wait for the final step towards west.
There is no more of a healthy world; no more green.
It's here, to the north, that I await the hot sun,
for it reminds me of such love for my son.
I can only cry like a wretched star against my grave wall.
Deep, wet moss crawls to invent an unseen green.
I'm waiting to write, and I'm sad, so sad
that my feet dig in dust and ice. I do not go west!
I can't! Not yet. . .no, not yet, to you, dear Lily.
When I come, sweet daughter, I will bring you a lily,
the same that named you for me. It's kept in a hidden sun
My daughter and son love their home to the west
and my study to the south. But my wall, my wall
is covered in thick silks; heavy, sad silks that are always sad.
Tears of words and salted water drops in a basin filled in green
Can you see it? The fallen splendor doused in green?
Do you see where it asks for you? For a lily?
Guess what I feel as you become me. The Sad.
I know what you (can) cry over. Is it the sun?
Do you feel what I break? Your mental wall.
You are to take my pen, for I get to go west.
No longer will I be sad for your sun.
Feel my vibrant green inject you, dead lily.
My wall is reached and I die in the west.
By Lori Jenkins
beats on the tin roof,
as its thunderous bass
keeps up with the
Their gusty companion
strums the fence gate
ringing out creaky notes
over the brassy cry
of a distant train.
And while this mad
orchestra conducts its
mute are the
He was a family man said his picture-filled wallet
sitting on a pile of clothes in his empty room.
A loving man said the bouquet of fresh flowers in
a vase is the lightly lit living room; a brave man
said the old Marine picture in his daughter's dark
room. A working man said the carpenter's belt and
the used blueprints in the closet; a Christian man
said the Bible with the ruffled pages.
A woman lived with him said the dress laid out on
the bed with a matching purse and shoes; he had a
daughter and two grandchildren said the picture-filled
wall. They enjoyed the water said the house with a
beautiful view of the lake; they cared how their home
looked said the lawn mower and weed eater in his
garage. They liked sports said the television on ESPN,
But something went wrong said the undone dishes in
the sink. He was ill said the doctors' bills in the full
mailbox; he was steadily getting worse said the
teardrops drying on the hospital bed sheets. The
broken hearts of his loved ones said that he will never
be forgotten; the mourning souls of others said it
never should have ended this way. Something went
wrong, they say.
You're like a fox coaxing the pursuit of endless hounds
Only once they've overtaken you
They realize you're a wolf painted up
Eager to cannibalize your own kind
You spew insults followed by poorly framed apologies
As though your golden voice could gild pain
And make a treasure of it
You've made vipers of your friends
Who you eagerly mistake for garden hoses
Left coiled in the parched gardens of selflessness
Where they did the opposite of starve
But lacked means to expel all the
Shit sliding through their singular veins
These living creatures writhe,
Praying for you to tread on them
So they can open their jaws
& devour you whole.
Laura J. Emahiser
Poets quote poets
More maudlin than they
With the first strains
of the Crimson Symphony of change-
And yet wax-and-vvane remain
By Korey Bums
Ashton Lace Ebarb
Sun fades away and moon appears
unfailingly so each day of the year.
But what of the stars shining bright?
They are a reminder of God's holy light,
ever shining and guiding us right.
Distant yet near, and mysterious aye,
is the most heavenly night sky.
Ambulance sirens flicker through
the backseat of a cruiser, illuming a grin
and busted knuckles turning blue.
I painted his nose a crimson hue:
my final stroke carved his chin.
And when the masterpiece was through,
the bastard got what he was due.
He laid there pleading and reeking of gin
under humming beer-signs glowing blue.
Passing headlights flicker through
the backseat of a cruiser, illuming a grin
and a lovely thought of you.
Now your beauty won't be black and blue.
Betsy Loyed ^
My name is Betsy,
and I am an addict.
I am addicted to the slow bum
of 90 proof whiskey in my throat,
the indifferent haze that settles on me,
that weightlessness inside my skull,
the feeling of freedom
that can only come from
being free from myself.
I am addicted to the tense give
of the pedal beneath my foot,
the wind that almost blinds me,
turning my hair into a
frenzy of fiercely stinging nettles
that assault my face,
the loud, powerful growl of
the beast in my control that
heeds the commanding whims
of my hands and my feet.
I am addicted to the high whine
of the machine that stabs
ink deep into my skin,
the pain that blossoms and dies
in sudden, spiking bursts
like a flashbulb in my vision,
the memories that I will wear
stained on me forever.
To the images that are not only
in my heart, and in my mind,
but also on my body.
I am addicted to the sharp stab
of the .14 gauge needle as it
sinks through my flesh,
the easy glide of the
metal bar through the newly made wound,
to the shine of the surgical steel hoop and ball
that decorates my lip.
To the smug satisfaction
of facing the pain
and coming away relatively unscathed.
I am addicted to feeling everything:
the euphoria that engulfs me
with every fiery sip;
the adrenaline that floods me
as my foot and the pedal touch the floor;
the pleasant emotion that warms me
as I survey my intentional scar;
the senseless pleasure that fills me
as I see my adorned body.
My name is Betsy.
I am an addict,
and I'm nowhere near clean yet.
I walk the shaded path beneath
the old oak tree.
I marvel at its limp and tired branches,
and step upon its fallen leaves.
I follow the cracked concrete
up the cold, stone steps.
I ascend the rock staircase
and try to catch my breath.
I stare out into the open field.
I see the fountain flow.
The water trickles down the bricks,
its stream so calm and slow.
I turn my gaze the other way
and look up a little high.
Three white columns stand tall
and tower into the sky.
There's a world just beyond it.
But here atop this hill
the modem world is lost,
and history stands still.
May 10, 1998
That spring our yard was green and lush.
Dusky blue and purple sky
looked down on the backyard,
sickly sweet scent of honeysuckle
diminished by the sharp, acrid odor of the bonfire.
Laughter, loud and bright, filled the yard
people and food did too.
Tent pitched over beside the fire for my sleepover,
wire hangers twisted and bent out of shape
for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows,
ice cream and big cake with the number six on top.
So much excitement, a child's silly grin out of breath
and happy. Daddy held my hand as I blew out the candles,
so big from such a tiny perspective.
My favorite gift,
a fluffy white teddy bear with shining gold wings
and a halo. Daddy said it would keep the monsters away.
The sheer joy of childhood and growing.
I didn't know Daddy was sick.
June 10, 1998
Asleep on a hospital bed,
curled up for nap time,
already used to the beeps and hums of machines.
Low tones of grown-up conversation
woke me, but I kept my eyes closed,
the sounds in the voices warning me
to pretend I couldn't hear the quiet, official
sounding whisper of the doctor that said
"We're doing all we can, Mr. Loyed, but
the cancer isn't responding as we'd hoped."
Long pause, then a voice familiar and yet hoarser
and thick, "How long." Silence seemed to
stretch to the edges of forever...
"Maybe six months. I'm very sorry."
Confused, a little girl lay beside her father,
wondered if she could have ice cream. I opened
my eyes to ask, squinched them shut tightly again.
I'd never seen him cry before.
I still didn't know how sick Daddy was.
I thought it was just a check-up.
April 3, 1999
First baseball game of
the Dixie Youth Little League.
Only girl on my team; that was
okay, Daddy was the coach.
Made my first home run on
the first day of coach pitch.
He lifted me up in the bright lights
of the ballpark, swung me around
with hearty and proud laughter.
Put me down quickly though, turned
to vomit on the well-tended turf.
I asked Mom what a cancer was—
she said it was a monster that
was eating him up from the inside.
I knew Daddy was sick. But
I thought he was getting better.
May 10, 1999
Springtime again. The grass was
still green, but it was dotted with
coarse brown spots. Birthday for me again,
seven years old! I felt like the big shot.
Friends and I made messes of ice cream
and cake while the adults stood around
in that serious way they did.
No tent or bonfire this year.
Daddy couldn't do them. Tired and pale
he could only sit in his chair.
I didn't forget him. I sat in his lap
felt safe and secure while I opened
my presents and shared my happiness with him.
I couldn't forget Daddy was sick.
But I tried to for a little while.
July 4, 1999
Fireworks, so much excitement!
Big party at the Ramada Inn as usual,
sunburns and fried food, we always slid
down the bluffs on wide pieces of cardboard.
He looked like he used to that day, except for
his missing hair. Early that week he lost his first
bit of his luxurious red hair; handed Mom the
clippers and with a buzz it was all gone.
They went to the bedroom, left the razor
alone. Came back out, I had shaved mine off
too. His tears unsettled me but his loving hug
made it better. But on that holiday it was all smiles and
infectious grins, no weakness or sickness.
I ran and schemed with my cousins,
carefree and exuberant, raided the kitchens
and swam in the pool, uncaring of the looks
our twin bare scalps attracted. No worries that day.
I thought Daddy was almost better.
Dull lackluster sunshine,
grass still grey from winter.
Only a couple of birds sang.
Eighth birthday, but I only invited
over one friend. Daddy was in
the hospital again, more chemo.
When he saw my teddy bear in his room
he looked confused, asked why.
"You said it would keep monsters away.
It'll scare away the monster that's always
hurting you." Third time I'd seen him cry.
I didn't like it— it scared me more than
any thunderstorm or nightmare.
This man so tired and pale with the
criss-cross net pattern of a radiation mask
etched in his swollen skin was not
the same man I had always known.
I was watching Daddy fade away.
Easter Sunday. I spent it with
family friends. The week before
Daddy collapsed, had to call the ambulance.
I was upset but I was okay.
Called him in the morning just
to say "I love you, I miss you,
Happy Easter!" Mom held the phone
to his ear, doctor had him doped up
on morphine to dull the pain; he couldn't
even hold up the receiver. But he knew my voice.
Mom said he smiled so wide it lit the room.
I didn't know I wouldn't talk to him again.
Came home from school ,
my grandmother walked outside.
She had red eyes and shaking hands.
"Daddy's gone, baby." A grown up
statement, a child's simple and stupid
response, "Gone where?"
I didn't wait to hear the answer,
just turned and ran, away from the
words I already knew. "Heaven."
I didn't cry, not a tear, not then.
No ninth birthday party.
I told Mom I didn't want one.
I sat by Daddy's grave all afternoon,
opened my few gifts there so I could
still share with him.
I cried with my Daddy that day
as I finally tried to say goodbye.
Sitting here reminiscing not missing past misses.
As I stare, at my hair and the strands of earlier female friends
that are still mixed in. So interesting that they all possess keys to
my locks since their hair is forever
locked in my locks enlisted from twisting.
Being twisted in my history covalent bond is our chemistry.
Every different dye I see is a different joy and a different misery.
Fine line between the black intertwined in my brown crown her
elevator attitude kept me up, down.
And all around going in circles in her monthly cycles that felt
forever, we were worse together better to disperse so I let her,
rather than hurt. Flap her feathers, spin her period propellers and
lift off. Instead of a splat to a pitfall documented in my domain
as the woman that palm rolled all.
Her opposite was a redhead whose body was fit. I hollered
quick at her thick thighs, glossed lips, that had a great make that
seemed fake and counterfeit, viewed her frame as a monument.
Grown gal, mysterious and confident my personal masseuse who
would take away my aches and pains,
worship my temple like Jesus.
She really enjoyed, my mental and I adored the brain she gave
me so her dimples I pursued. It's too bad it could have been so
simple but with two kids and a husband as her kinfolk her love I
had to refuse. I may have lost her but her read fox fur in my hair
is forever fused. So her hues I will never lose.
The complement to this misses was a brunette that would send
me Hershey kisses, relayed baton letters in the mail that would
pass her wishes. Our conversation felt so unreal and fictitious.
Me and this female exchanged mail and never missed a tale.
So religious how we traded this misunderstood physics. Each
envelope engulfed my most recent lyrics I wrote and I quote
gave permission to open my bars imprisoned in my thoughts
locked art we lived apart but drawn by hearts we would lay and
listen on her pillows of peace. Her strands that shed I would
keep. As my needed optimism when defeat stepped on me from
not choosing to be with her instead.
And finally, the blue eyed blonde head. I knew she would
probably grow to dread my dreads. Since her golden tiara
wasn't the only flame that was unfed. My lion's mane was
made and shared with black, brown, and red of past beds.
Whose hair became parasites and fed on my untamed roots.
Rapunzel's blonde grail made my tips look burned or inflamed,
induced with sweet specs like lemonade. We had great times,
but the memories of living mistresses haunted her brains,
disturbance flowed through her veins. But who's to blame,
they all point their fingers at me. I guess since they all possess
keys to my locks, since their hair is forever locked in my locks.
Enlisted from twisting in my history with every lock I twist I
wonder if they're missing me.
This place has split personalities.
Durin' the day it is quiet, unassuming.
Just a structure of wood and concrete,
metal and nails.
But when the night creeps over
it lurches into life.
A deep thrummin' bass line
hits like a heartbeat
buh dum buh dum buh dum
Bodies press in from all sides
movin' and standin' and dancin'
jostlin' for space that doesn't exist
The woman passin' out the
liquid courage says Honey if you ain't
livin' on the edge you takin' up
too much space
All the cells laugh and guffaw
hem and haw hem and haw
eyes at half-mast and steady droppin'
Uh oh time to cut 'em off
Anybody know of a cab company
A guttural roar shoves its way
through the mob of sound
makin' no apologies
vrooooom vroom BANG vroom
The boys are here
dismountin' from their rides as they
sing I'm a cowboy on a steel horse I ride
and I'm wanted dead or alive
From the way they're wobblin'
they're probably already through
the better part of a half-gallon of whiskey
The walls seem to expand and
shrink like they're breathin'
Over on the concrete slab floosied up
with swirlin' rotatin' swingin' lights
arms wave through the hazy air
Lit cancer sticks might bum
sizzle, hiss, OUCHHHHH
But hey shoulda watched where you were goin'
The air is smoky and thick
like the lungs of a smoker
who just took a drag
Can't hear the familiar click clack drop
of the pool games anymore
The heart's beatin' too loud
The hips are movin' too much
The stomach's ready for a break I think
It just ran towards the bathroom
that's not gonna be pretty
Can somebody please close that door
Oh look they're passin' out shots
the smack of the glass followed
by the splash of the Crown
Me me I'm next in line
and you can go after I guess
If you can't keep up don't even show up
We'll be here till momin' light
It can be real friendly
but oh honey it can be real mean
Either way the shots are on you
and the drinkin's all for me.
Awkward - Even the word looks out of place
Look at it - all full of w's like it is
It suggests a direction with it "ward"
Like toward, forward or backward
But it is just stuck in awkward pauses
and awkward situations
Peeking around - trying to figure out where it is going
It's just hanging out in the dictionary
Wearing all the wrong letters
The other words near it feel so definite about things
Like Awesome and Awful
No, they don't find themselves in uncertain teenagers
With no style, bad hair and acne
Awesome is in the cheerleaders and football players
Awful hangs around with the
mean-spirited thugs that no one crosses
I 1 mean Awkward sits alone
Paint the walls until they call the laws
Taint so all can see our aerostatic flaws
We've made to stall.
The walkers and the cars that drive by
Let's leave our prints, imprints and paws
Into private property to preoccupy
Their pupils enthrall their eyes
Audit their minds.
Let's be mischievous and vandalize
Forget the red octagonal signs
Don't slow down on yellow
Let's climb over walls and under gates
Let's calculate how many rules we can break
Trespassing, obstruction, defacement of constructions.
Desecration let's cause eruption
Let the Reno's ears start flaming
Let's blow the wigs off the pigs
Let em get mad. Have 'em run
Through the town like pacman in a maze.
Going in zig zags for days.
While we violate and infiltrate
Abandoned real estate
And paint our names on several trains
Spray-paint our names
Spray-paint our fame
So for eternity we'll remain.
Like a carving in a tree
For everyone to see our fantasy.
So every location those locomotives go
They'll know our love on rails and tracks for everyone
To tell and see a landmark
Of our history immortalized in
Has she noticed the black wire weeds
entangling her wings yet?
She flew high before with the exalted pleasure
of white graces in vacant dark.
Curls won't become knotted in feathers.
Will she miss sky life? The cream garment
fluttered in high winds like her wings
that flit, damaged, to the unseen ground.
Bones slide into grey, smeared light
where vines incessantly wrap wings.
Scales of radiance break over her forehead.
The cloth is no longer elegant. It depletes
the gleam of her skin. Her lips are thick
and dimmed with age. Has she noticed
that her eyes and hair are the same?
On my way
Wash my car
I'm a star
Drive on in
Clear my mind
Should I go?
Still don't know
Is this real?
Just my luck
Grab my phone
Shit dead zone
Wish I could
See the hood
Clear my mind
I can't go
Light says so
See it blink
I can't think
Hey just wait
I'll be late
I can't go
I can't go
I've never been good at decisions
^ ^ Patience Mattes
I was flying a kite yesterday
and it occurred to me that I,
in fact, was jealous.
I envy the thin diamond
because it can soar away from
to whisper in the trees' ears,
play chase with the birds,
and salsa dance with the wind.
It can kiss the clouds,
peek at the angels,
and race with planes.
It witnesses a view
that few will ever see.
Uninvited from its elite flight club,
I'm excluded from the fun
and must remain banished
to the main land.
A shrewd smile smudges my face
when I see what I must do.
The kite is attached to a string
that I control
from the ground.
So I pulled that privileged shape
I am a man of Socrates,
offering little protection
to dear, first grade students.
over community wires.
Snaking paperwork slithers and spits
perfections and weak legs at legislations.
Social fights rattle out office-arrows,
aiming for progression.
I am a man of Socrates. . .
strides through lobbies
creating self-pleasing morals.
that is who I am!
Allow me to make political suicide.
Guess you folks wanna know
how they got blind, huh? She did it,
that wife of mines, if you wanna call her that.
I can't tell ya' where it
went wrong. She was a pretty wholesome thang
when I married her. Clean, too. Kept herself an'
the house up just fine. Guess she became
lazy over time, seeing I had to
tend to the plowin' an' the
plantin' an' the cows an'
the chickens an' the bam an'
the fencin'. House started lookin' dirtier
than the bam, there. Soon,
dog-gone thangs moved from the
bam to ma musty house. Curtains
yellowed from the winter snow
seepin' 'tween the splintered sills.
Soot stacked like flat butter on
the cab'nets from the chimney smoke.
So much dirt on the damn
floor you could plant 'taters. That's
what blinded them three dad-gone
mices-all that dirt an' funk! Po'
mices got all hysterical, couldn't
find they way out. So let 'em chase
her ass 'round the house; least the rush
of that long dress she wear
sweep the flo' when she runs.
It's always so boring here.
I'm alone and sitting in the dark,
bundled up tight,
in the same place, on the same mark.
I can't see anything around,
but I can hear voices sometimes;
always so much complaining,
it just constantly whines
about some type of pain.
The last time I heard this annoying voice
there was a jostling around
and a tearing kind of noise.
Then there was a blinding light,
and fresh air sucker punched me.
It was so raw and so new,
hitting me unexpectedly.
I started to get used to the new world;
unlike my home, it wasn't a bore,
swallowed up by darkness once more.
So much awful humidity;
filthy, moist air all around,
such a hot; wet; and soft environment,
it's a nasty place I seem to have found.
I remember falling, free-falling,
landing in a smelly mess.
I was burning and fading away,
dissolving into nothingness.
m^^"^ ^ ^ John Lewis
In the shadows of my factory scuttling can be heard.
Not the scuttling of rats.
Oh, how I wish it were rats.
They have long since gone, their fate I do not doubt.
Out of the darkness a bent figure darts across,
engrossed in its grisly work.
A flash of ochre, light catches a gnarled,
four- fingered hand.
I am wretched, in this cage I have built for myself.
Once, my factory had been a thriving business,
producing products praising the world over.
Until they came.
Until, in the deepest, darkest comer of my factory,
I discovered a hole.
I thought nothing of it at the time.
Then my workers disappeared.
I should have laid mortar to it on the first day.
Imagine my surprise the next day,
when instead of employees,
there were small, copper-skinned creatures
in suspenders three sizes too big, laboring,
shadows dancing across their hairless heads.
But what caused me to turn a blind eye to the fate of my workers?
Perhaps it was the zeal for their labor.
Perhaps it was the lack of understanding
on what a paycheck was.
I could deny no longer when I saw them feed.
Gruesome, the grisly sight of their
chins, greased with gristle and gore.
How long could free labor assuage my fears
of their broken teeth, their vacant stares
glinting in the shadows, animalistic in nature.
And they sing.
Did I mention that they sing?
They drone and they mutter
and they sway to and fro.
Hobbling and jostling
and chanting their songs.
Day and night
they slave away,
though I am the thrall.
The light, despised by their crinkled,
is denied me by their hisses.
They grow harsher by the day.
They take greater risks.
Putting on tasteless performances,
using company property as props.
But the worst comes at night,
the scratching at my door.
the hushed whispers at my window.
Purple is a color they have never seen
Do they not have hues in that
horrid place they spawned from?
It is soothing to them,
so I wreathe myself in it.
Becoming a violet specter
haunting the halls of my own tomb.
I am a ringleader without a whip.
A garish spectacle dancing
to a tone-deaf tune
sung by monsters.
Has my madness taken new form?
They've taken to wearing
bright, green wigs
to cover the awful tattoos
they carve into their scalps.
Are they trying to be human?
I can't help but laugh.
Scarcely my thoughts turn
from my own freedom.
But the key to my cage
lies in their distended, orange bellies.
Murders do wonders,
but to sicken is quickened.
Into that hole, that blackest
of wounds in the earth,
tumbled a goat, laden with poison.
Sickened at the slobbering
and the gobbling and the gorging,
Minutes distorted to hours.
A beam of light revealed
crimson chins below
grinning grins and
eyes glinting with glee.
They only stared.
They just stared.
I can take no more.
I must be rid of my burden.
My torment could just as easily
be anyone else's.
I must give away my factory.
A contest of random chance,
that is all they would believe.
Perhaps I can make my
replacement come to me...
For the first time they speak to me.
Not in song, but in a voice as hollow
and deep as the crack they had crawled from.
They want a child...
Dear God, they want a child!
Sometimes music is best without lyrics.
Sometimes the instrument wants to speak,
and the cello calls out to me.
It has the elegant voice of a violin,
with a deeper heavier edge.
Its dark, rich voice sounds wise
as it slowly prepares a story.
It speaks to me,
whispering a secret I'm not meant to hear.
It tells of long mysterious nights
with the wind caressing all in its path.
The beautiful starry night
is lit up by the large yellowing moon,
a harvest moon, so bright with its pale light.
It's like I'm there—
when the cello speaks to me—
sitting in a field of tall grass
as the wind causes it to tickle my skin.
It tickles and itches at the same time,
but leaves me content, nevertheless.
The faint taste of sangria and chocolate
lingers in my mouth.
I smell the salty scent of the ocean,
and I can hear it sing with the cello as the waves lap.
I imagine the moon's golden glow reflected in the ocean,
causing it to look like flowing honey.
A soothing effect embraces me as I drift away,
letting the cello take me where it pleases.
The cello speaks to me of the happiest feelings.
but something's not quite right.
The cello speaks of something else,
I know it's there,
I can feel it in the pit of my stomach,
something that wants to destroy the happiness,
that's what the cello tells me.
It speaks to me about happiness
and about something dark,
something I've yet to discover;
but I still let the cello tell me its story,
because it takes me to new and exciting worlds,
and I like it when the cello speaks.
By Richard Wilder
I watched the blanket on his chest rise slightly
as he drew another labored breath.
The room was quiet but for the air
rattling in his ruined lungs, and the clock
ticking softly at his bedside.
I'd stay with him a few more hours
and keep him company until the end.
He'd been in and out of consciousness
all night, so it surprised me
when he coughed twice, then began to speak.
He told me about his Regret.
The people he'd hurt, the mistakes he'd made
when it came to the ones he loved.
Not many woulda, coulda, shouldas, but quite a few
wished he'd hadn'ts, wish he could take it backs.
I listened patiently and politely as he spoke
of the people he'd wronged, whom I had never met.
The people he'd pushed away until there was no one left
to wait with him but a stranger.
I wondered what things I'd be saying in sixty years or so
when I'm strung out on morphine and rambling.
I don't know what I'll end up regretting,
but I'd like to not be alone.
Justin Lyon ^
I want to live my life like a seashell on the beach,
have the waves wash over me and cull my path.
I want to see the currents of the ocean
twisting into knots, turning like lovers,
legs locked in an ever loving limbo
down lower and lower until feet touch sand
and tiny crabs crawl over painted toes.
I want to feel the ebb and the flow,
the push and the pull, the in and the out
of a game not meant to be won
but to be experienced while I pull myself closer,
only to be washed back again by the tide.
I want to feel the grain of sand between the
cracks in my feet, the trenches of my spiral.
I want to feel inside me the movement of life
of something that needs me for survival,
knowing that once that life breaks out
from its former home and leaves me to wallow
in shallow water, that only then is it truly free.
But is this me?
When I feel the cold rush of water raise
hairs on the back of my neck, and when the
never-ending backward motion of the
brine pulls my feet under, I wonder
Is this me?
Now believe me when I say that what it is that
I wish to see is nothing more than a happy dream
a vindictive, wanton fantasy. And life ain't
so sweet that salt still don't sting your eyes.
The very motion of the ocean, the very swing in
your hips drives me down when we hit the
dance floor, and when you blow me out of
proportion, I sing.
I want to know what is left for me
when I am finally left empty,
bleached white on dried sand.
At the very least I'll know that
deep inside this twisted shell
my soul sends soothing melody
into your ears for all of time.
Birth of an Incubus
By Courtney Hawkins
She bought a pink diary years ago
where secret words in
transparent flows could have
life, locked away between the thin sheets
She had to lay her untold loud thoughts
where clusters of phrases
and pent-up remarks could have
form, cached deep into the pink fibers
She believed that book was a better way
where detailed images
could have their say about her
hopes, hushed behind the folds of closed pages
She gathered all those suppressed words
where inspiring thoughts
could be heard sprung from her
soul, muted within the edges of crisp paper
Then she remembered how imprisoned she felt
with all those words
locked in herself like scattered pictures
and cluttered visions, needing her to release them
And the pink diary she bought years ago
stayed locked in her
dresser bureaux, as you read her thoughts, set free
know locked away was not meant to be
^ Marcus Lee
The maggots in your mind
begin to transform.
They grow wings
and move to your mouth.
Your lips part
to let them fly out,
and your words hit me
like pesky flies,
and they won't seem to go away,
just flying around—
around and around my head.
And the caterpillars in me,
long ago became butterflies.
They flutter around
within my gut
as snakes threaten
to leave my mouth,
eat your annoying flies,
and hiss at you.
My harsh words
want to bite your head off,
but I keep them inside
and they take refuge behind my eyes,
are sent your way
as you and your duck feet
The page is a bucket, waiting to be filled
with words that will slosh
back and forth. Spilling over the sides,
splashing syllables onto the sidewalk.
The page is a piece of paper, waiting to be crafted
into an origami crane or bear.
Fancy folds in the form of
figures of speech.
The page is a plate, waiting to be covered
with meaty metaphors and spicy similes.
Sweet and sour sentences
from the imagination buffet.
The page is an ocean. The ideas are the fish.
With punctuation for plankton.
But what of the whale?
The page is my canvas. The words are my art.
This stanza is a cliche.
I can't even finish it
The page is a gullible child.
Soaking up stanzas like a sponge.
Absorbing all that alliteration.
If I said this poem had a deeper meaning,
the page would believe it.
/k^y (^^-<J^^/U^ /^^^e^^
Do not lose faith in your reason to write
for what is written must someday be read.
Those words will be a testament to your life.
Write something every day, and every night,
to save the words that live inside your head.
Do not lose faith in your reason to write.
Live with those words, you have a civil right
to speak your mind and let your voice be heard.
Those words will stand, a testament of your life.
But there will come a time when you must fight
to keep your words from being left for dead.
Do not lose faith in that desire to write.
You may not even live to see the height
of appreciation for what you may have meant
with words that read a testament of your life.
But in the end the pen will make you quite
immortal. You will live on through what your words have said.
So do not lose faith in your reason to write.
Your words remain, a testament of your life.
What is the measure of self-worth?
Can it be measured in cups?
What is the conversion factor?
I know how it feels
to be made less than you are.
I mean, not a planet?
That's pretty cold.
You're a what now?
r/zar can't get old.
All the pointing,
the jeers and the leers
Do the other planets sneer?
Who cares if they laugh?
Who cares if they point?
Who cares if they pantsed you at that summer social and made
you feel embarrassed in front of that one girl who you thought
kind of liked you but you weren't really sure but that's aaaall
I mean, what the hell?
Who even decides something like that?
What have they ever done?
Not like you, Pluto.
You were always the coolest.
Temperature- wise, anyway.
1 St Place
Marsaret J. Rodrisuez
• ^^ 1 . ^
** ^ Si Tucker 11%
And with that they're off, exploding forth from the crown
of the split banner yielding the emblem of their mighty
mascot. The cold air is a vacuum inside the masks of their
helmets, their shoulders sealed airtight within their ten- and
twenty-year-old shells. Their tunics are stretched across their
solidity like the skin on skulls. Their fierce movement keeps
them from going soft under the blinding pressure of the lights,
from bending under the weight of the sound and fury coming
from all and opposing sides. They see very little in terms of
motivation, and everything in meaning, in fate, in which they
all believe but rarely acknowledge.
Running past themselves, some from behind catching up
at gentle trots, their entrance is fortified by half-clad dolls
and sounded by extreme opposites of varying physical build,
much unlike themselves. The roar of the road into the field,
scratched and streaked with tarnish like an old billiards table,
is marked by a tinny microphone's announcement of their
excited entry. They raise and wave their arms, point and
paint recognition in the crowd of their warm welcome, which
beckons both orally and physically for a serious win, which is
a combination of playing a good game and kicking ass. Forty
years later they may or may not realize that it is best to do this
early on and die young, though no one will wish that upon
They are, most of them, from around here. A few of their
homes are scattered around town, on the sides of that one
commercial avenue, where Friday nights such as this end
somewhere along the meandering from window to window, the
heat still in their hearts and bearing an interlocked arm with the
only one in their lives who matters even more than their moms.
The others, some of the big boys, live out on gravel roads near
the city limits, where they wake up in the dark of mornings
regardless of whether it's a school day. They are, habitually,
lifelong consumers of rice, which grows like the dickens all
around town, and also, habitually, extremely Catholic, that is,
in every sense of the word. All more or less definitely believe
in God, sure, and most of them all go to the same white-brick
Catholic establishment on the lonely highway screaming across
the fields, and they all stand with their thick, charred fingers
interlocked in front of their belts and their heads downed. If
believing is important to them, then the only thing that matters
more than the congregation is the team, the only man with
more power and authority is their coach, the only story more
important than Moses and the Ten Commandments is How We
Won Tonight. The prayer that preludes each and every game
is evidence enough for the fact that not one of them believes in
the idea of "home field advantage," which is an illusion held
only by a few sets of parents and the fans who search with a
weak mind for any and all excuses as to Why They L-Word,
which is something discussed by only the ballsiest of souls,
usually over drinks and behind closed doors.
In their private individual lives, the only thing that matters
more than whatever 's coming next is what's happening now
and here. During the week, they may stride through white-
walled locker-bound hallways from English to Algebra, they
may proudly pop open a small carton of milk at lunch and side
up with their warm, perfectly-nosed girlfriends, they may just
about eat their erasers as they struggle and inevitably make
a C average on their exams, with which they're extremely
satisfied, and they may or may not be anyone at all, just a
jock in a lettered jacket, if that much. It doesn't matter at all,
because on Friday nights after relaxing in a sweat-smelling
locker room post-bell they rush into a wild frenzy recognizable
only to those who really play the game, and those are their
fathers, their coach, their teammates and compatriots wearing
the same colors, themselves. A last-minute fury of hope
shoots down their silent, sturdy spines as their coach, in a
windbreaker and a whistle, tells them how it's all going to go
down. Their freedom dies before the game and is reborn like
a phoenix sometime after the game, but now, they belong to
the game. Their souls belong to God, but their asses belong to
the team. And for this they get a faded spot in a team photo,
a few statistics and maybe one day, the ones that are true and
undeniable players with sheer talent for their craft, they get
a scholarship, though many of them figure the rest of their
football lives will be marked with tossing the thing around with
friends on workless afternoons and watching college games in
the stands, watching the ones who can really play, the ones who
might even have a shot at The Big Time.
But let's not venture there, for this is all about tonight, Friday
night, the big game, just like every other big game. Going
10-0, that's what this is about. Their minds are on catching the
ball, knocking the other guy down to the dying grass where
losers weep and dream, intercepting and turning everything
around, making way and hauling it to the End Zone. None of
this includes school, family, friends, post-game socializing,
no, God, no, not even her. Not even she, who watches from
the first row of the stands, wrapped and warm, her eyes on his
number, shoulders, arms, his every move and muscle. Not
even she, who chats offhandedly with her own friends, who
are nobody to him, nobody, just like the clusters of nobodies
talking to his parents, for at these strangely intimate sorts of
nights, everyone in the audience somehow knows everyone
else. There is no need whatsoever for programs, but they're
there and they're free, picked up from the same guy who takes
back the small rust-orange tickets. What matters to those in
the stands, those who may have once played like this but never
will again and only with grown-up sons and grandsons, what
matters to them is completely different and everything else
than what's going on down on the cleat-lined field. The only
problem is, even with the prospect of easily discerning what's
not going on inside their helmeted heads, no matter what's
shouted at them with or without bullhorns, there's no hope
whatsoever of figuring out what's at the top of their lists, no,
not exactly. Sure, they're supposed to block for the quarterback
(who, privately, knows it all rests on him, man) and make sharp
fast breaks down the line and get open and keep moving fast,
fast, fast, and knock down the other guy who's potentially
bigger, faster and stronger, sure, they know that much. Their
eight-year-old brothers, tossing a ball from home to one another
right outside the fence, waiting for the game, hopefully players
of this caliber one day themselves, could tell you that. That's
The only knowable thing regarding all this—what's internal,
what it is they're tuned and measured to every Friday night-is
that besides It, whatever It is, is that it isn't anything else, you
Except, perhaps, to the seriously layered attendees huddled
so closely that the spectacle borders on claustrophobia for
some, exhaling visibly from cupped red hands around chapped
lips. There is constant incidental rubbing that to an extent
keeps everyone around at least until the last minutes of the
game, when everyone will start muttering their conclusive
comments and summarizing the event appropriately as more
or less the sum of its plays. They are true fans, girlfriends,
sidekicks, foils, skinny watchers in hoods fondling girls just
out of their reach, siblings, fathers watching their sons do what
they did when they were younger and admittedly more able-
bodied, and mothers wishing with every satisfying crunch of
physical contact that their sons wouldn't play so rough and
holding secret treaties with God Lord Jesus that hold that He
can have the game any way He wants it, she doesn't care, just
as long as her baby's alright by the end of it. This is something
she especially worries about and prays and hopes that God Lord
Jesus keeps up His end of the covenant even more so when the
ball's in play if her son is a quarterback.
There is perhaps no more of an enviable position in a
small American town than starting QB for one's high school.
Simultaneously, the only figure carrying something even close
to the weight your average small town high school starting QB
carries and knows like the back of his hand is Atlas, who doesn't
even register or have to have a certain GPA or participate in
yearly drug testing (which in this town in basically a waste of
time) or deal with parents and coaches and scouting-related
pressures, the last of which is useless and ineffective against
the gods of starting players, the natural, unwitting athletes, the
real stars of the game who actually have a shot, those few so
perfect they don't even know it. The starting QB, who will
basically own most everybody's eyes tonight, as he does every
Friday night from 7:00 to, say, 9:00 or so, give or take, has on
his padded shoulders the weight of the game, which in this town
and to his father waiting and unblinkingly watching him, is the
entire world, it's the air he breathes, it's ether, it's everything.
Impressing the moms is easy; just being out there on the
field at all, really, that's all it takes. It's their fathers they have
to work for: their fathers, freelance assistant coaches whose
tongues are razor-sharp and ripe with judgment and a well-
concealed envy, the latter of which is the reason why so many of
them easily insinuate themselves into the lives of their rice-fed
sons working at the grind here, why they're either unheard or so
easily forgiven when they say "we" instead of "they" and say
things like "We're ahead by a field goal" or "We beat the hell
out of them" when success comes like it does, and things like
"Well, they played a hell of a good game, I'll say that much"
and "They did their best" and "They just weren't ready for it"
when the backhand of fate comes swiftly for your reddened
It's best to say that most of them play for themselves, which
is probably true anyway, at least with regards to the ones who
spend equal amounts of time tearing up the field as they do
warming the bench, the majority who are already looking
forward to staying home after high school, to working for a
living in the place they grew up, attending a good school and
majoring in business or engineering, to getting painted up and
waving large spongy pointed fingers and shouting "We're #1 !"
with the same self-inclusion of their good old dads. These are
the players for whom the game is not entirely The Point. They
might play for the delight of their fathers, though they would
never know it. Love of football is said to be hereditary. Most
obvious of all, none of them play for the school, which, except
for the game and the girls, they otherwise hate for what it is:
a pointless interruption which they must shamelessly ford
in order to get to the rest of their lives, and Lord knows it's
a long four years and nothing ever happens in this town, but
here now, take this here ball and run with it, kick a field goal,
throw it sixty yards and never let the other team get within
sight of it, this is what they're told, specifically regarding that
precious pigskin, but of course it all bears an unconscious
resemblance to everything else.
The winter wind blew hard and tore away the last leaves
from the oaks and maples. They swirled and scattered across
the barren field and against the weathered barn. Field mice and
small squirrels scurried across the field with nuts, berries and
grain to hoard away before the storm came. Yes, a storm would
be here soon. The animals knew. The trees knew. The wind
The view across the field toward the Big Woods was a
dismal sight. Everything was drab and cold. The crops had
been harvested and mowed down leaving only withered
brown stubble in the flattened rows. The bam was a worn out
gray .. .and it leaned slightly to the right, giving it a tired and
neglected look. A once bright blue flag, now faded to a dull
and ragged darker shade of gray than the bam, flapped from
atop its battered roof. The wood rail fence was in sad repair
and appeared so frail that one more strong gust of wind might
topple the few standing posts.
But there, midway of the fence row stood a defiant glimpse
of color - a young, strong cedar tree about six feet tall. With
no other trees nearby to compete for sunlight, the cedar was
full and perfectly shaped. It was a lonely tree. Especially
during winter. During the spring, summer and fall there were
people about, plowing, planting and harvesting crops. The
crops themselves were companions; tinkling with laughter-
like sounds as the spring rains bounced off of the broad green
leaves, whispering in the late summer breezes, and rattling as
the autumn wind shuttered the dry stalks and leaves. But winter
was a quiet, lonely time for a single tree so far from the Big
There was no reason to be happy for the lonely cedar tree. If
only he could somehow move closer to the Big Woods. Just a
little bit closer so he could hear the sound of the birds chirping
in the trees, the small animals chattering as they burrowed and
nested, the deer as they snorted and pawed. Oh, occasionally
a bird would Ught in his branches to survey the barren field in
search of an overlooked seed or kernel. And sometime a rabbit
might hop by and pause to sniff in hopes of detecting a forgotten
carrot or turnip. But mostly he was alone, looking across at the
Big Woods and wanting to be a part of the large family of trees.
The lonely cedar was also embarrassed. Here he was, just
sticking out in the middle of the fence row in the middle of a
field. It seemed as if the Big Woods were staring at him. He
couldn't help it if he was just standing there, doing nothing.
He would love to shelter small animals and birds from the cold
winter wind. The cold didn't bother him, nor the wind and rain.
He would love to do something to make his fellow trees proud
of him— even if they were way over there. Why do they keep
The cold, dreary day slowly turned to night and the lonely
cedar just stood there. The wind whipped and howled and the
lonely cedar just stood there. Icy spray lashed against the bam,
the fence and the cedar. But he just stood there, in the dark, in the
storm, feeling alone and separated from all of his kind.
Then, the storm was over and replaced by a light, almost
happy, soft pattering. The cedar was soothed by the gentle
caressing of the snowflakes. Too bad it was still dark. He had
only seen snow once before when he was just a seedling. Best he
could remember it tended to melt rather quickly, but he had liked
the way it looked as it fell from the sky. It had made him happy.
The cedar reveled in the delicate touch of the snow. He
stretched his branches as wide open as he could to savor every
minute of this bliss. And since it was dark, the trees in the Big
Woods couldn't see him. He could enjoy the snow in the darkness
with complete abandon.
The snow stopped as the light gray of dawn broke into a
glorious, sunny new day. The brightness of the sun sparkled and
gleamed off of every snowflake and ice crystal. The field, bam
and fence were transformed into a winter wonderland. The cedar
tree looked at the beauty surrounding him. Even the Big Woods
had a frosting of white on the top branches of the tall trees.
Around the edge of the Big Woods were snowdrifts. Animals, big
and small, were venturing out of the woods and crunching across
the snow. Three young raccoons were rolling and tumbling in a
drift near the end of the fence row.
Suddenly the cedar tree felt the intense glare of the trees
of the Big Woods. The animals all stopped in their tracks and
were staring at him, too. Timidly, the cedar looked down at his
branches. He was nearly blinded by his own radiance. The snow
that he had so eagerly embraced in the night draped him like a
sequined robe. The sun shone on him like a spotlight. He looked
again to the Big Woods and this time he saw awe, wonder, and
acceptance. He was beautiful.
October makes her appearance in Louisiana with usual
uncertainty. Much like the swelling of a creek— when the
rains come, summer and autumn meander through the terrain
together. In this place, it is hard to see where one ends and
the other begins.
One such night, I met a woman I will never forget. Her
name was Clairee and she was being admitted to ICU
room thirteen for treatment of pain and anemia— no rooms
available on Oncology this night. With a history of lung
cancer, its treatment was taking its toll on her. She was so
fragile, and I so green... Clairee could tell.
In thick Creole she said, "Get them gloves 'n mask on,
girl. My white count too low. You gonna make me sicker
than I is."
Red-faced, I replied, "Yes, Ma'am."
Heartily, she laughed.
I could see beyond the beefy mounds that once held her
teeth— past the thick white crust which slurred her speech—
until, I thought I could somehow see her soul. I wondered
what gave her such voracity for life.
I imagined that her skin was once smooth like river silt.
But, as a reptile whose glory had long since faded, Clairee's
shell was thick and taut. Her amber eyes still sparkled
though. She adjusted her bald head's colorful scarf which she
called her "do rag." I asked, "Why a do rag?"
She laughed again... "Else you gonna do with a head that
ain't got no hair?"
We both laughed!
I started the IV fluids and morphine. Her breathing eased.
No need to teach Clairee about PC A morphine. Remaining
true to her former knowledge-
She instructed, "Give me that pain button, girl. The dose
too low — I gone tell you."
I handed her the PC A control.
Paperwork done, Clairee 's immediate problems were under
control. The oxygen eased her distress even more. Soon the
blood products would be ready and that would help too. As
the morphine traveled her veins, spilling its therapy into her
brain, the dam broke— and Clairee talked.
She talked about fear. She talked about family. She said
she had adopted her brother's children when she was twenty-
five. She had remained a single parent until she turned thirty-
five. Then she met and married Claude Benoit. She said if
not for her "babies" she would still be single because she met
Claude at a school function for her children, Ellen and Rob.
The repetitive beeping made by the PC A control — my
signal of her need.
And she mumbled, "I ain't scared of dyin' . Done looked
down that road— jes' don't wanna be alone when I go."
Clairee talked about a love and faith that had seen her
family through hard times.
Half laughing, half wincing, she spat, "Man, them babies
like to drove Claude crazy them first few months. All cramped
up in that lil' ol' house. What'n big enough to get alone
nowheres. But, my babies come to love Claude jes' like me.
Two years later we gits the news, 'Oui' gots cancer.
It was hard to tell if Clairee was laughing or crying. Or,
was she laughing to keep from crying?
At first I thought she was giving possession of the cancer to
her entire family.
She continued, 'Them babies calls me Oui."
"I asked, "Why do they call you Oui?"
She drifted off into a prayer that only the Spirit of God could
Lowly, she moaned, "Oh Lord, please don't make me wear
these shoes by myself."
I woke her as I was leaving the room. She asked for Claude
and her "babies." I reassured her and went for her family. She
drifted off again.
Just as they were suiting up to enter her room, Clairee's heart
rhythm changed and the cardiac monitor alarmed. A code was
called to ICU thirteen. As the code team arrived, CPR was
started— her family in the hall— watching.
As the crash cart was rolled into Clairee's room, someone
shouted, "No pulse!"
The next moment, the defibrillator was attached to her
clammy chest and she was shocked.
And the river quieted, like God had cupped His hands for a
drink. Her family looked on in horror as she was shocked again,
The paddles on her bare skin sounded like a branch crashing
to the ground.
Someone yelled out, "Still no pulse, continue CPR!"
Sounds of chest compressions and bag-mask ventilation
rubbed their way into the atmosphere.
And her family heard it all. In the light from the open door,
we could see Claude and the kids— overcome. Not being much
help in the room, I went to Clairee's family. They pleaded.
"Don't let her die! Don't let her die! She don't know we
Someone closed the door and I felt small as I led
Clairee's family to the consultation room. As they entered
the room they began to tell me of Clairee's decision about
She did not want to suffer, but wanted her family to be
present when she passed. She had not been alone since the
three of them had come into her life. We were interrupted
by one of the code-team members who said they were
successful— for now.
Entering Clairee's room, the musk was thick and the
machinery loud. They could only watch and listen. Like
stones skipping on water, the ventilator sounded its intrusive
tune. The cardiac monitor chimed in, as Clairee's heart
fought that other rhythm. The PC A was still on. Now
disconnected, it beeped in time to the techno-rhythm of ICU
thirteen. I explained the equipment and told them it was
okay to touch her.
Claude took Clairee's hand in his. Skin touched skin.
Ellen kissed her Mama's cheek and wiped away the tears
that flowed from her own eyes. Rob stood at a distance,
head in his hands.
Ellen spoke softly, "Everyone is here now, Oui, you can
They were all there— sharing, weeping, loving. I listened
as they shared their memories of Oui.
I joined in the homage to this one who was dressed for
death and being held from the place she did not want to
Again, I asked, "Why do you call her Oui?"
Ellen answered, "Our Mama died when my brother and I
were little. Our Daddy didn't want us. He told us we would
be living with our Aunt Clairee. She became our Mama and
I nodded. She had said "yes" to those who needed her and
they kept her from being alone.
As they shared, Clairee 's brow seemed to ask a question.
She opened her eyes as if to say, "They're all here," and
closed them again.
After their tribute to Oui, her family spoke to the
Intensivist. All agreed, the time had come.
On a rainy night in October, I disconnected the ventilator
from the patient in ICU thirteen. And the water had washed
away the boundaries, until all that was left were sweet
memories of Oui.
Author's note: The following takes place in an apartment
or dormitory y it's impossible to tell which. Just so there's no
confusion, there are at least six people in this room— likely
more— pretty much all talking at once. Those named here are
Noam, Paul, Chris, Harp, Bernard and Marcus. None of them
are vegetarians for life. All of these young men speak at least
once in this selection, but it's unclear whether or not someone
who as yet remains unnamed says anything here. I wouldn 't
worry about it. Also, the author hopes it's clear that Chris is
showing Paul how to play a video game.
"All the girls keep talking about Sam."
"Why do they keep talking about him?"
"Ha, ha. That's funny."
"You guys are a bunch of dildos."
"Well, I guess part of me is like a dildo."
"How long did it take you to think of that Samsung joke,
"Oh, I was in bed by eleven."
"Okay, so like I was saying, the trick is to put your pants
on and then your shoes. If you put your shoes on before your
pants, you'll be in a world of shit."
"Say, Noam, that joke would work better if your name was
"Yeah, I know."
"I think I get it, Chris."
"I'm just saying. Anyhoo, so you put the pants on and then
the shoes. Socks first though. Yeah, you get that. I think
there's a cheat so you can skip that. But that involves a whole
lot of other stuff. You've got to get the guy to buy sandals or
something or other. To do that, you have to go to the store
and see if they're on sale and really, you don't want to have to
worry about that until you're on a higher level, like, say, Law-
Abiding Citizen or so. Don't worry about that while you're a
"Can't my guy just not wear shoes?"
"Yeah, but I don't recommend that. Or at least not for a
while. As a Young Adult you'll encounter gravel and junk in
the road that you can't see, so, you know. Don't get used to
that. Okay, so."
"Hey, pass it, Bernard."
"Alright, already. Here, tell me when."
"Okay, okay. Jesus."
"Harp, are you actually doing homework right now?"
"It's not much, it's just a little busy work. Totally not a big
deal if I don't even do it."
"So, why are you doing it then?"
"I said so why are you doing it then?"
"Oh, it's nothing. Not a big deal at all. Really. I could
really just not even do this."
"Okay, so. Harp, I am really not understanding yum logic
at all right now."
"Alright, so you just do that there then, Paul. Give it a
shot. Puttin' on the pants. One leg at a time now."
"I got it, I got it. Quit telling me."
"Hold the button and gently push on the joystick, push
forward. Gently. Gently, Paul!"
"I got it, damn it! I — arrgh— damn it!"
"Paul. Whoa, Paul. Paul, Paul!"
"Whoa, there, Paul. No need for that. That s an expensive
"What the hell, man. What could she see in that guy?"
"Whoa, wait, is this about the game or about Nicole?"
"Yeah, Chris, it's about the game."
"Well, to get a girlfriend, you have to find the key to your
house so you can lock the door and — "
"Jesus, Chris, I'm talking about Nicole!"
"Oh. Would you like me to tell you what you said the first
"Pass it back, Marcus. You didn't even pay for most of
"What's it on anyway. Harp? Jesus, I have no idea why
I asked that. It's kind of like walking right the hell into a
mousetrap, like, one for humans."
"Yes, a human-trap."
"Well, if you really want to know, I'm just reviewing some
notes from this lecture given the other day by Dr. Cornelius
Comblower who's this retired professor originally from
somewhere upstate and lives alone since his wife died and now
he's single and he spends his days writing for fun and watching
birds and he doesn't even own a TV set and anyway the lecture
''You know what, Harp, I've kind of forgotten what my
original question was. So, you know. And Christ, Harp, use
a comma every once in a while, huh? Hey, Bernard, can 1 get
some of that?"
"Alrighty then. You know what, I'm sorry. Harp, what was
it on, the Comblower birdwatcher guy's lecture? Got to admit,
sounds a like an eccentric old fart."
"What could she possibly see in that guy? That big old
lug. I ought to sock him, just once. Sock him in the goddamn
"Well, Samsung, for one."
"Ha— quit it, Noam— ha, ha. How would you know, right,
Noam? Ha, ha. I mean, yeah, what could she see in that guy.
right? I mean, Christ, he's just got the second most wins in the
conference as a quarterback and he's got everything going for
him with scouts and he's All-American and I don't know, Paul,
I mean, sure, he's kind of dull. Samsung, ha."
"Did you hear what he just said? 'Sock him in the goddamn
face,' he said. Ha! Sounded just like William Buckley, God
rest the poor bastard's soul. Just like William Buckley circa
"Do it again, Paul. Your William Buckley impression, I
missed it, do it again."
"I don't think it was an impression, Harp."
"Hey, wait, I can do it."
"Paul, you're off the hook. You're up, Noam."
"Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll
sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered!"
"Hahahahahahahahahahahaha ! "
"Hahahahahahahahahahahaha ! "
"Just like him! Just like him!"
"Ha, hahahahahaha, hahaha!"
"I don't appreciate the joining-in on your part, Chris."
"That was the funniest thing since Samsung."
"Oh, ahem— whew! Ah, now. Does Buckley say 'will' or
'shall'? Oh, I forget."
By Jillian Corder
"Listen, kids. Your mother and I love you both very much.
Okay? We always have and we always will. It's just that,
sometimes, well, [prolonged sigh] well, sometimes when a man
and a woman get married, well after several years things start
to happen and they figure out they're not, um, well, look, in
most cases, in some cases they still love each other, they just
need some time apart. Um, in some cases. Sometimes they
realize, oh, they think they're not in love anymore. Now they
love their children. No one can ever take that away. But they,
they don't love each other anymore. Sometimes it's not really
that. Sometimes they just need some time apart and then they
get back together. They realize that they only thought they
weren't in love anymore but it turns out they really were and, I
don't know, they needed some time apart to sort of realize that.
Okay. So there's that. It just sort of happens that your mother
and I need some time apart. We just need some time apart,
that's all. Just a little time apart. After being married so long,
you can see how that would be, um, realistic. Um [prolonged
sigh], perhaps that wasn't the right word. Okay. I'm sorry.
But you understand though, right? So what's going to happen,
okay, is your mother is keeping the house, she'll stay here and
I'm moving out. For just a little while, you know. See what
happens. I have an apartment just a little way, just a little way
up the slope. Um, it's a nice place and I, um, well, your mother
and I have worked out sort of like a schedule so that we'll both
get to see you guys equally. In equal amounts, I mean. Nate?"
"So, you guys just need some time apart then and then you'll
come back home."
"You just have to move out for a little while and then you'll
come back home, right? It's just some time for you guys to
realize how much you miss each other and then you're coming
back, am I right? Tell me if I'm missing something."
"Well, little buddy, I really can't say."
"What do you mean? You said that in most cases the parents
get back together after they realize they were wrong, that they
really do love each other."
"Nate, they're separating."
"Mom and Dad are splitting up. Remember, Tom's parents
did this too."
"No, aw, come on, you guys can't! You can't get a divorce!"
"We're not getting a divorce yet."
"Uh, uh, we're not getting a divorce."
"Oh, nice cover, Dad."
"What the hell's going on. Mom?"
"Greg, don't say that."
"Why the hell not? I mean, Jesus Christ, why don't we have
any say in this?"
"You do have some say in this, Greg."
"You guys'll be coming over every other weekend. You'll
stay at your mother's during the week since it's closer to school
and you'll come over every other weekend."
"What kind of a choice is that? What kind of say do I get in
"Greg, calm down, sweetie."
"Calm down? Why should I calm down?"
"Greg, please, your brother."
"Nate, I— but this is your fault! This is your fault!"
"Randy, could you-?"
"Yeah, that's a good idea. Excuse me, waiter, we'd like the
check. And some Kleenex for my boy here."
Sun beaming down with merciless heat. Stale air burdened
with the must of dozens, for there are dozens being burdened
in this stale air. Mules, bom of those partial to traveling on
two feet, dispersed over the vast green, brown and yellow
spotted land of sweet abundance. The majority of the herd
all displayed a striking resemblance, yet one member of
this particular owner would catch the eye of any onlooker.
Her broad shoulders sat squarely atop her stout, yet steadily
decreasing frame. She trotted in a lackadaisically majestic
pace that served as intimidation toward any who attempted to
buck towards her or her foals.
Upon occasion, she would smuggle a bit of cane for her
precious family, working but a few yards behind. Having
always been successful at smuggling in times past, it was
almost second nature for her to take the sweet stalks. Yet,
this time, just as she reached to deposit her now sour stash,
a hand grabbed her worn saddle. Jarring her senses, the
touch made her too frightened and nervous to even conjure
a way to steer her body in order to look upon the face of
this mysterious contact. The unfortunate reality finally set
in that she could not stand idly for eternity, no matter how
much she did wish. So... she began to turn. The air thick with
tension and heart- wrenching anticipation made it feel as if
the world slowed its revolutions down to meet the pace of
hers. When she finally made it 180 degrees, there to greet
her was the angry face of her brander. He was blazing red,
from being held over a fire for what seemed like a lifetime,
made into the shape of the word ''ZEUS." She already knew
the procedure, after having seen many of her team endure
the same punishment; therefore, she proceeded to trot, just
as she had before, yet this time with a little more pep. Pep
to show that she feared nothing, pep to appear strong to her
onlookers and, more important, her children. Yet, inside, she
knew it was merely a facade, and many spectators knew, too.
They would just never dare to voice it.
With the overseer attached to her arm, her foals tried
to reach for her, yet retreated quickly at the fear that they
too, would be burned by the same brand their mother was
preparing to endure. The mare and her brander came to
a halt when they reached the stalls. The sternness on her
square face said she was ready for any punishment on
the way, so the brander did just that. With lasso tied tight
about her wrists, dangling her body from the oak, a crack
of Zeus' thunder was heard. The crack sounded to all in the
proximity, yet the lightning-came in contact with only on^r^i^^^^^^
The constant shocks of the charge morphed her tough jWek^l^l^^^^B
hooves into shallow pools of crimson flesh. She attempted to
keep quiet, yet one muffled *'neigh" devised a way to escape
from her thick throat. She tried to keep her composure, yet,
the drops of salty anguish began rolling.
Sun beaming down with merciless heat. Stale air
burdened with the must of dozens, for dozens are being
burdened by the stale air. Mules, still dispersed, now all look
the same. All are marked with the brands of ownership and
captivity. Zeus' thunder sent a shock wave through the herd.
No longer thoughts of sweet dreams, just the taste of salty
I want to tell you about the bust of Louis St. Denis. It sits atop
a large hill with its back against the mighty Cane River-Lake, a
lake in the shape of a river. I grew up on that hill playing little
kid games and later big kid games. That old bronze bust has seen
my worst and my best. I've seen it shine like a new penny in the
twilight of an August evening. I've seen it Jackson Pollocked
with a bird shit medium.
When I was a kid, I would slide down the hill behind the bust
on a cardboard box and change the color of the knees of my
jeans to a fine shade of green. Years later, I toasted the bust as I
staggered from the pub across the road swishing and swashing
down the red-bricked street. I've waited for someone there on
that hill beside the bust of Louis St. Denis. Why, I've even pissed
on its base hiding from cars when the public bathroom next to it
was full. I've known that bust. I've known Louis's face.
I once read that Louis St. Denis wanted to be a Spaniard so
bad, he married a Spanish woman. When I was sliding down that
hill, staining my clothes, I too was Spanish.
I also know that Indian slaves were sold in markets across the
Cane where today's Christmas festival and Fourth of July fire-
works are launched. My father's people.
I have, like so many others, passed in front of the bust's solid
brown face and looked into its lifeless eyes. The bust of
St. Denis wears beads during Mardi Gras. Countless sunsets and
tropical storms pass by like the months and months of the
oppressive heat of extended Natchitoches summers.
I've known the bust of Louis St. Denis in all my lifetimes.
I sit down the hill behind the bust along the banks of the
Cane and see fishermen in their big floppy hats pull the tiniest
brim out of its black still waters. Ask anyone and they'll tell you
that this place is haunted by the ghost of an unknown Confeder-
ate soldier who was shot on the same bricked street that sees
five o'clock and lunchtime traffic. There is a plaque. It's placed
on an iron gate that opens to a narrow alley. There are ghosts in
there. When I was a kid, I saw a young boy in Confederate gray
playing Dixie on a drum.
Now I see the bust of Louis St. Denis staring out into another
world—a world with cell phones and traffic rolling slowly past
like the ants who build metropolises in the cracks of the curbs
that bank the steep hill. That same hill I used to know so well.
The river never moves and yet the lake in it winds down
Natchitoches in serpentine sprawl. The bank across the water
permanently displays the next year's Christmas festival lighted
designs. Beyond Santa Claus and eight tiny reindeer, I hear
ghosts rattle their chains.
Perhaps that is why the bust of Louis St. Denis turns his back
toward the Cane.
I remember going crazy after I quit smoking. I can, at best, recall
many sleepless nights and irritability that would land a sane person
in jail. I remember my head constantly hurting and my jaw grow-
ing tight, tighter, tightest at the thought of the raspy blow of smoke
into my lungs. I distinctly remember reading online at one of those
quitting smoking encouragement sites that the mind and body actu-
ally mourn the loss of cigarettes as one would mourn a dead relative,
friend, or pet. I grieved day and night. And at night is where I learned
that food was a handy distraction.
As the weeks passed and I progressed more and more from a
smoker to a nonsmoker, I couldn't help but feel a bit like Gregor
Samsa becoming an insect, though his change was overnight. I was
getting too big for my chrysalis. While I was busy in my bedlam, fat
was being stored in my cells to the point where I needed to change
my diet as well. So I started walking.
I walked everywhere and at any time. If the mood or withdrawal
hit too hard, I was running. I was out on the road watching my
shadow move with me and the horizon bounce in front. I can almost
pinpoint the day I came upon the squirrel.
It was mid- August in Louisiana, and with that sort of heat, the
streets begin to melt and give a little. I remember that it was on Wat-
son Street where the road dips from a slight incline and gently hugs
the shoulder in an even slighter curve. And it was in the morning.
The squirrel had been recently run over and was lying on its back.
Its legs splayed open like a midair jumper from power line to tree
limb. It had a golden brown belly and a salt and pepper back that
ended in a bristly black cattail. I ran by and swerved around it, staring
at the mangled corpse. The head had been turned almost completely
around from the tire or tires that had done it in. Its tongue protruded
beyond its small beaver-like teeth. The blood had turned maroon and
had already congealed, creating a stain around its head like a rodent
halo. I ran past.
That next week, while on my scheduled run down Watson, I came
upon the dead squirrel. It was still on its back, and its tail still blew
in the hot breeze. I caught its death scent before I got close enough
to see it. I had been running at a fair pace, gasping by the time I ap-
proached the stench, so it shocked me when the scent snuck into my
mouth and nose. I could smell the rotting corpse and taste the putrid
air. Flies had covered the head and face in a black haze, and I could
see undulations beneath the belly fur. I could see how small and sharp
the squirrel's claws had been and looked into the trees lining the
neighborhood. I looked up into the canopy and heard the tack-tacking
of claws crisscrossing the tree limbs over the road. I ran past.
A week later, I was rounding that same gentle curve as a speed-
ing truck passed me. Its red bumper came inches from brushing my
shoulder, and while I didn't yell at the careless driver, I gave it a sun-
squinted dirty look. I remember thinking that the driver was an ass for
speeding in a residential neighborhood when I came upon the corpse.
Its body had become twisted and blackened; entrails were spread like
freshly splattered tar. The flies had all but abandoned the squirrel as
only a few darted in and out of the corpse. I could see that a paw was
missing. The eyes bulged like two marbles. The tongue had grown
longer tasting the irreverent blacktop. I remembered that, until that
moment, I had been obsessed with either nicotine or losing weight,
and right then, I feh saddened by the sight of the dead squirrel. It was
torn to pieces and badly decomposed but I wanted to pick it up and
bury it. I thought I might cradle it in my arms like a mother and wail.
I would squeeze it, and its little head would hang from a tendon into
the curve of my elbow. I would chase away the flies. But I didn't. I
did nothing of the sort. I caught my breath and continued to run.
It was the third week and I was surprised to see the body still there
in the road but askew from where it had been killed. It was another
hot day and the smell had become worse. I could smell it from down
the road where Watson intersects with East 7th Street. I heard the
drop of a large walnut as a fat grey squirrel bounced across the road
and nearly flew onto the low lying branch of an oak tree. I remember
hearing the snips and knocks of a woodpecker high above. I stepped
into the asphalt gutter to allow a passing car to swerve away from
another car parked on the side of the road in front of a house. For a
moment, the blue clouds of exhaust and the heated scent of the car's
engine superimposed the smell of rotting carcass. The squirrel was
nearly torn in half and I could see the beginnings of pale pallid bone.
The small intact spine reminded me of the filigree on china. The front
right leg had been mashed into the hardtop like tar and gravel filling
for a pothole. There was no wind that day. I ran on.
The paper boomerang is made to be flown indoors. I read that even
the faintest wind could blow it off course. And if left out in the rain
like so many children's toys, the paper boomerang will come apart,
first at the folds, and then melt into a gooey pulp. I remember running
that day and thinking about my squirrel friend. I thought about how
the squirrel was like the boomerang because it rotted like paper in a
rainstorm, only its rain was the heat~the heat that hung around my
neck like a chain. I had lost a couple of pounds in those first weeks
and was happy about that, though I still wanted to smoke more than
anything. I remember asking someone who had fifteen years of non-
smoking under his belt if it got any easier. He said yes, that it did get
easier but it never went away. He said that the longing for nicotine
was like a tide that would always come in, that it always came fast,
hard, and continuous for the first few months but would then recede.
The hunger would always come back in waves but each wave would
be less violent than the last. He said he never got over it. He said he
could light up today and it would be just like he never quit. I went out
that next week for my scheduled run past the squirrel. I had grown to
expect the smell of death. I had become accustomed to the lingering
corpse of a tree squirrel, and like the quiet observer, I watched and
documented the breakdown of the animal. I even spoke to it like a
passing acquaintance, for somehow, I had hoped against hope that it
would come back to life and scamper off into the hole of some maple
tree. I wanted our boomerang relationship to last. Boomerang because
I would always come back to it and everything would be in order.
Things would make sense. Starvation, diseases, war, the absence of
God, could all be excused.
One hundred years ago, people posed for pictures with the recently
deceased. Mothers and fathers and babies were dressed and fixed to
look alive, when in fact, they were as ripe as spoiled milk. What I re-
member about that particular squirrel gave me an ill-at-ease comfort
like a one night stand or a cheap drug. There is that cliche that death
teaches about life. I found it in a little grey tree squirrel.
I remember running down the street at around noon during the
hottest part of the day. I slowed around the hidden curve and stepped
onto the crisp brown-yellow of a neighbor's grass, avoiding a passing
car. I could see ahead the gaseous blur of heat on the road. I dodged
potholes. I remember that dogs were barking, and I thought it funny
that I had never really noticed them before. That's when I realized
that the smell was gone.
The putrid stench of the squirrel corpse was gone and had been
replaced by the scent of magnolia, rose, and foliage. The squirrels
darted in the trees above me. They nibbled seeds and nuts in yards.
I saw a man washing his truck. The rims of the truck reflected the
sunlight in blinding white shots. I came upon where the corpse had
lain for an entire month. There was nothing there except a black stain.
I looked in the large drainage ditch a few yards ahead, but there was
nothing there. I ran on, watching the horizon and letting my mind reel
back into random thoughts and future plans that seem to occupy most
of my "exercise thoughts."
There have been more carcasses, but I don't even seem to notice
or care now. I lost more weight and then gained it back and then lost
it again. That summer was unusually hot and crazy things happened.
And I'm glad to say that to this day, I haven't smoked a single ciga-
The sun peeked out through the living room curtains as I took
a moment to settle myself in. I tucked my feet under my legs for
warmth and stretched my dad's T-shirt across my knees, crack-
ing the white lettering of the Jack Daniel's lo^o. I didn't watch
cartoons, preferring the live action singing and dancing shows
on Disney. After slurping down the sweet, pinkish purple milk
left swirling in my cereal bowl, I would turn off the TV and sit in
the sun-soaked warmth of the carpet in front of the living room
As a child, there was no day or time more sacred than
Saturday morning. The entire week would only matter in the
sense that Monday led to Wednesday which inevitably led to Fri-
day, the eve of Saturday morning. Like all holy days, those morn-
ings began with ritual. In the early hours, before the rest of the
house, or even the sun, had begun their day, I climbed the kitchen
cabinets to reach for a giant cereal bowl. Sometimes I had the
luck to be the first to the cereal box, shoving my hand to the bot-
tom to retrieve the coveted prize. I'd fill my bowl to the top with
rainbow-speckled Lucky Charms, leaving little room for milk, the
cereal cascading over the side of the bowl. I made sure to save
the tiny marshmallow clovers and horseshoes, letting the small
oat pebbles fall to the floor, only to be crunched into crumbs later
My mother taught me that cereal was a meal appropriate for
any time of day, but I loved it best for breakfast. Not only was it
the simplest of meals to prepare, it was also the sweetest, espe-
cially in our house. Sugar Smacks was my mom's favorite; that
sugar-coated corn puff cereal in the red box with the frog in a
baseball cap on the front. The bag inside was a shiny gold, hint-
ing at the treasure inside. The cereals in our house never required
that extra spoon of sugar like those at my grandmother's. Perhaps
my mother stocked such goodies as a kind of rebeUion left over
from her childhood. I remember her telling me once that she used
to have cereal for dinner, leaning over the kitchen sink while every-
one else sat at the dining room table.
As I got older, cereal didn't need milk. I would fill plastic sand-
wich bags with Honey Nut Cheerios or Corn Pops, taking them to
school for a mid-morning snack. I would grab a handful before
sitting down at the kitchen table to do homework. Now cereal has
no time or reason, but I love it best as a midnight snack. Padding
to the kitchen, the soft yellow stove light my only companion, like
a thief; as if this simple act of snacking were a revolt against the
normalcy of the rest of the world. This meal calls for a giant plastic
cup. Sometimes I even leave out the spoon, gulping down the cold
milk and chewing on the mini marshmallows, like little sugar rafts.
When I was about six, my mom dated a tobacco farmer. We
often spent weekends at his parents' house riding four-wheelers
through cow pastures and down steep hillsides to rocky creek
beds. On those trips to his parents' house, my sister and I would
grasp the sides of the bed of Randal's big white truck, our hair
whipping at our faces with stinging delight. Those long drives on
the undulating back roads highjacked my nostrils with the dank
muskiness of cow dung, the sweetness of fresh-cut hay, and the
earthiness of moist soil under recently fallen leaves. But the smell
that brings me back to my childhood drifted from the smoke that
lingered like early morning fog low on the hill valleys. It's the
smell of curing tobacco, the smell that permeates from the cloth
packaging of fresh smoked sausage.
The tobacco grown in these northern regions of middle Tennes-
see, just north of Nashville, is used to make chewing tobacco and
snuff. The snuff that rotted the breath of the old man who lived
across the street from us. As he walked to the mailbox with his
cheeks puffed out like an old gray chipmunk, dark brown stains
dripped down his white undershirt, reminding me of the foulness
of his breath and the sweetness of curing tobacco at the same time,
My mind had yet to make the connection between those moist
bits of burnt leaves that filled packs of Redman to the large green
plants that reminded me of overgrown cabbage.
I finally got a closer connection to the leafy tobacco plants
when the tractor that set the baby saplings into their pre-dug holes
broke one summer, and my sister and I helped place the small
leafy plants into the perfectly formed holes about the size of my
small hand. It was tedious work that left moon-shaped dirt circles
in the tips of niv nn«jLTii;iils AfltM- hiv;ikiiio no fhe dirt cubes that
imprisoned the fragile roots, I placed each plant into its tiny home.
Within weeks the tips of the giant leaves nearly reached the top of my
head and began to droop, tired from holding their own weight, and
they were ready to harvest.
All of the care and love given to these plants seems to end with
harvest. Instead of taking care not to break the delicate plants, the
harvester must take care not to lose a finger. This is dangerous work,
done by hand with giant sickles that chop the tall, yellowing leaves at
their base. My mother, standing just over five feet tall, was barely vis-
ible over the bundles she carried, like a child balancing an overloaded
basket of laundry. The tobacco had no smell yet, except that of earth.
Each bunch of plant leaves was to be tied to wooden stakes with twine
and strapped to long beams of wood. I only knew what happened next
by the smoke seeping from the cracks of wooden bams with rusted tin
roofs. To those who didn't know any better, these barns were burning,
smoldering from the inside out.
Here, dozens of tobacco leaf bundles hung from the rafters like
giant, lifeless bats. They dangled over smoldering aromatic hardwood
to be cured, smoked to the same dark brown my mother's skin had
turned from her summer in the fields. Tobacco gets its smooth flavor
not from the plant but the smell of backyard bonfires, of crisp fall
nights and decomposing leaves in morning dew. This is where my
love affair with tobacco ends, in its pure form, dehydrated and wilted,
like giant dried flower petals. I want to take the leaves, shrink them
to a manageable size, crumple them and put them in a locket so I can
smell them whenever I want to go back to the hills of middle Tennes-
1 994 was the year for teenage purgatory. While the country tuned
into Nancy Kerrigan's attacked knee, O J. Simpson's arrest for a double
murder, and the league-wide baseball strike, I had turned my cap
backwards and hit the summer heat with a belly-buster. I was 14 and
(in teenager time) approaching middle age. It was June when we met
Burt. Even today, memory reels play when I look out at the woods from
the highway. They roll in snippets but I guess that's enough to help me
remember him. Sometimes, I stare too long out the window from the car
and am snapped out of my trance by the sudden jerking of the rumble
strips on the shoulder of the road. And yeah, I can admit that sometimes
I envision him standing in front of the car as I drive around a curve. Of
course, he disappears before I hit him. No, most times, I watch the woods
as if I'm searching for a trail; a shallow path leading back to that summer
and back to Burt.
I can remember Chris, my best friend at the time, rushing me down the
road. His excitement was as catching as the flu. I began to grow more and
more panicky even though I had no idea what was going on. He led me
down the shoulder of the highway. We were supposed to be at the local
bowling alley slipping quarters into the arcade machines and pool tables.
Instead, we were in hot pursuit of some mystery that existed down the
road from the alley. I remember my shoes making thick clopping sounds
as they hit the hot top. Chris was fast; I was almost at full gallop. I nearly
had to hold his hand, and for a teenage boy. that was out of the question.
But. if I wanted to see what all of the excitement was about. I had to
consider the possibility. We stopped in front of the tree line. There was a
ditch separating the road from the woods. It was a moat daring us to cross.
"What are we doing out here?" I asked.
"Shh, come on and be quiet." He stepped into the ditch.
"What is it? Did you see something boss?"
"Dude, this is so boss, you'll shit yourself."
I stepped into the ditch and my shoe soles sank into the mud.
"Shit," I said.
"Be quiet," he said, waving his hand at me from the tree line.
The trees grew along the highway in neat rows resembling the outside
perimeter of a com field. I heard a car coming and stepped into the woods.
Chris was already almost invisible. He had walked so far ahead that I had
to trot to catch up. Once I did, he put up his hand like a crossing guard.
He didn't look at me when he did. He stared straight ahead into a clearing.
He reminded me of a hound picking up the scent of a wounded rabbit. I
stepped closer and looked over his shoulder. He pointed the way.
"You see over there?"
"Over there next to that oak."
I pulled a small pine branch down and out of my face. I pushed
forward and peered through, trying to adjust to the sudden shade of the
woods. I saw nothing but forest. I careened to face Chris, but he didn't
notice. He stared out into the thick woods, waiting for me to return his
"What am I looking for?"
"Just look, man," he said.
"I did and I don't see anything."
I stepped a few feet closer and Chris stuck out his arm as if to stop
me even though I was now further away from him and much closer
to whatever it was he wanted me to see. I inched. A crow cawed and I
almost lost my balance. I squatted and, pulling more branches down, took
another, much deeper look. I breathed deep. After my eyes had finally
adjusted and had acquired a decent viewpoint, I spotted it.
It was covered in branches and leaves and juxtaposed against the trees
looking like a small hill. Seeing it, I knew exactly what it was and why
I hadn't seen it right out. It was a dome-shaped tent with a camouflage
pattern. We loved to camp and knew pretty much everyone who camped
in the area. This one was different because we had never seen a tent like
this one before. This one was strange. It was strange enough to drag us
out to the woods when we should have been hitting pool balls into their
"So this is it?" I looked back at Chris.
"Yeah, man, ain't it the coolest thing?" He walked closer.
"I thought you had found an alien ... or a dead coyote, or some pom,
but a tent?"
"Not just a tent," he said.
"What? Can we take it?"
"Hell no, I think somebody lives here."
We walked closer to the tent, feeding our curiosities as though some
reflex had kicked in. We neared the back of it before an overwhelming
sense of danger rushed upon us. We shared a look that was as mutual a
look as anyone could muster. I peered over and saw a man sitting cross-
legged reading a book. His back was to me. The twin cords of his yellow
Walkman streamed out of his headphones, distracting him. Suddenly, his
legs moved and extended out. Turning around, we ran full blast through
the thicket, nearly getting beheaded by a low limb, and jumped the ditch.
We ran down the highway hoping against hope that he hadn't spotted us
with (what our imaginations had conjured) the scope of a deer rifle.
"Holy shit!" Chris said between breaths.
We stood outside of the alley with our hands on our knees, our chests
"What . . . was that? I mean who is he?" I asked.
"I don't know, man, but he ain't no regular camper."
"What makes you think that?"
"Did you see all the stuff he had with him? There was at least two
weeks worth of gear out there. Besides, I don't think a regular camper
would lay tent that close to the road or cover up like that."
"You got a point," I said, rising up. I took off my cap, wiped my brow,
and put it back on.
"What do you suppose he's doing out there?" Chris asked.
"Could be a contract working for Con- Agra, or something."
"A chicken man? Maybe."
"I'm sure he has money. Con-Agra pays good enough," I said.
"Then why is he living in a tent?"
"He may have a house somewhere else," Chris said.
"You think he's a poacher?" I asked.
We stared back down the road. A feeling came over me like being about
to fall out.
"Con- Agra worker?"
"You want a Coke?" I asked.
"Root beer," he said.
We walked back into the bowling alley and bought our Coke and root
beer. There were a few pool games played; I won one, Chris won two. My
mom and her boyfriend, Billy, weren't due to pick us up for another few
hours and by that time, it would already be dark. But even the lingering
daytime hours of summer couldn't take our minds off of the mysterious
man in the woods. For supper, we ate cheese fries with more Coke and root
beer. We sat at a table sandwiched between the bowling ball racks and the
lanes. Time passed without us talking. People we knew came and went. Our
minds were elsewhere. At around a quarter to seven, realizing that we had
an hour until dusk, we decided to go out there to investigate. We needed
answers and it was at least an hour before dark, so we set out back down
the highway, our feet clopping along even when we tried to walk soft.
We stood at the ditch watching the cars and trucks pass while waiting
for the opportunity to duck into the woods unnoticed.
"Okay, so if he sees us, we run, right?" Chris asked, standing in the
"I guess so. But what if he's not there?"
"He's bound to be there, the sun's about to set." He pointed to the
"Maybe we should go back."
"Aw, don't be a wimp." He turned back to face me. "We'll just look
around, you know, real Hardy Boys shit, and then we'll leave."
I looked both ways before crossing the ditch.
The woods were much darker than before. Shadows had sprung up
where once small spruces grew. We crept through the brush and limbs
like a reconnaissance squad. The tent was nearly invisible save for a dim
light from the cooling embers of a small fire. Inching further, I could
feel noseeums around my nose and ears trying to wedge their way in.
Mosquitoes stopped by for an evening suckle of blood. We drew closer to
the dying fire.
"See, I told you he wasn't here." Chris slapped his arm.
"You smell that? What is that . . . baloney?" I asked.
"Look in the tent?" Chris suggested.
"You look in the tent."
"You scared? Chicken?"
"Why don't you look in the tent? You're the one who wants to know so
bad," I said in my defense.
"I guess I'll have to. Should' ve known I couldn't depend on a Parrie to
I could see right through Chris' teasing and knew he was just as scared
as I. But he was more determined to see what was inside the tent. He
unzipped it, looked around, and then stepped inside. I stood alone. The
dark grew thicker. I imagined animals staring at me with their reflective
yellow eyes. In the distance, I could hear an eighteen-wheeler. "Probably
a Con- Agra freighter," I said aloud to the encroaching dark. Chris said
nothing though I could hear him shuffling through what sounded like
paper. He clicked things. I stepped to the tent and said, "It's getting really
dark out here, hurry up." My arms and face itched. "Okay, okay, I'm
coming," he said, crawling out of the tent feet first. "Nothing here anyway
except . . ."
"Beans." A voice called from the woods.
Chris scrambled out of the tent like a startled cat in a paper bag. He
turned to run but tripped over one of the tent stakes and fell. I followed
right behind, hitting the ground hard. When we finally got to our feet, the
voice said, "Don't go."
We stood frozen for what seemed like days. I could feel the grit of
pebbles and prickly grass in my palms. We turned around with our hands
up at our waists.
"Don't go. I'm not going to hurt you."
The voice drew closer until it formed into a gaunt man of about six feet.
His hair was shaggy and brown and he had a beard with about a month's
"My name's Burt." He stuck out his hand.
It felt like bark.
"I've been camping out here for a while and would love some
"I'm sorry about your tent," Chris said.
"Don't be. I can see you didn't steal anything and you're young. Young
people do that."
He put down a paper bag of groceries and pulled out a can of pork and
"You guys want one?"
"Nah, just ate," I said.
"I had some Spam but I ate it all. Had to go back to the K&B." He
looked up at us. "I walk to K&B to get my things. It's right down the road
and convenient as hell. You sure you don't want any?"
"We're sure," I said.
"Alright." He spooned beans into his mouth. "Well, now, there seems to
be a problem." He sat on a milk crate eating. "You two know my name but
I don't know yours."
Chris nudged me.
"My name is Tommy, I'm from here. Well, not from here obviously, but
I'm from Natchitoches."
"And I'm Chris, and I'm from here too, well Natchitoches."
"Well great to meet you guys. Say, do your mothers know where you
are?" He smirked.
"Um, yeah, the alley, which we should probably be getting back to
now," I said.
"You can't stay for a few more minutes?" he asked.
"A few minutes then." I looked at Chris who was staring back at me.
"And then we gotta go."
"Where you from?" Chris asked.
"Everywhere, man," he said.
We sat around the fire that had been rekindled by Burt and got to know
each other. We told stories and jokes and then, out of nowhere, Burt pulled
out a bottle of K&B brand bourbon.
"You guys want a drink?"
We looked at each other.
"Hell, yeah." Chris' eyes dilated. "Come on. Tommy; get your first
drink of whiskey."
The fire blazed between us, lighting and darkening the early evening.
It was nearing twilight and the sky grew dark purple. We drank and drank
until we were all three drunk and laughing and couldn't feel the bugs
anymore. If that had been an interrogation, Chris and I would have spilled
our guts over everything. Burt laughed at us. We laughed at ourselves
while the night crept up on us like a panther.
"So, Chris, why were you going through my stuff anyway, man?"
"I don't really know. I guess we, well I thought, that you might have
been a poacher. I mean, I was just checking to see, you know," Chris said.
"Oh, well, as you can plainly see, I am a decent fellow."
"That's right, Burt. You are a decent fellow."
"What would you have done if I was a poacher?"
We looked at each other.
"You guys." He laughed. "I'm just pulling your chain."
We toasted Burt about five times. The night wore on, the fire shrank,
and the bottle became less and less full.
"You know I was in Vietnam." Burt reclined back on the ground.
"Was a goddamn paratrooper."
We didn't say anything.
"Saw the world; then blew the shit out of it."
Burt broke a twig and threw it into the fire. He looked up at the sky.
"Yeah, so I guess you guys want to know why I'm living in a tent.
Well, boys, I'll tell you. You see, I'm a searcher-man."
"What's a searcher?" I took a sip of the sweet-sour mash that normally
would have made my whole mouth seize in disgust, but by then, we were
getting drunk enough not to notice nor care about the taste.
"What's a searcher? A searcher is somebody who . . . somebody who is
searching for that something, you know? That something that eludes us all,
man." He flipped his hand in front of his face to produce a trailing effect.
"What is it? What eludes us?" Chris sat up with his back straight.
"I dunno. That depends. It's different for everyone. Tommy over there
might be looking for the reason to why the sky is blue and you, Chris, you
may be looking for some ... I don't know, man, some tang but you know
"You search for that one thing because you're hungry for it, you know."
"What are you searching for, Burt?" Chris asked.
"Me? Shit, I'm looking for freedom. Max freedom."
We were quiet after that. I heard another Con- Agra truck pass in the
distance. I imagined all those crammed-up chickens riding in the night air
ignorant of their doom.
"I don't think my mom's getting any better," Chris stared into the fire.
"What makes you think that?" I asked.
"What's wrong with your mom?" Burt asked.
"She's talking to them more and more. Just yesterday, I heard her say
she had a long conversation with my Aunt Becky about my grades. And
you know what? My Aunt Becky's been dead since I was eight. She's
losing her mind and there's nothing I can do about it."
"It'll be okay, man, the doctors will help her," I said.
"Fuck the doctors. They don't know shit! I heard Tim say that the
insurance is almost tapped. What's going to happen when we can't pay the
"I don't know," I said.
"I'll tell you what. She'll have to go to the tenth floor at LSU Hospital.
My own mother is a fucking lunatic, man, and I can't do anything about it!'
He punched the ground.
I looked over at him and wanted to give him a hug but instead poked at
the fire. The flames rose up orange against the red embers.
"My grades suck and I don't care." He wiped his nose with his hand. "I
don't care what Mrs. Carmody thinks, she can go to hell. I'll join the Army
before I let her win."
"Screw the Army, man." Burt was lying on his back with his head
propped against a tree trunk. "The Marines is the place to be, full of farms
There was another long quiet. Chris calmed down and so did the fire. I
could feel the cool night rub against my back like some thankful cat.
"You know," Burt rose to one elbow, "I'm on my way over to Monroe
and then from there, I've got a job lined up in South Carolina if you guys
want to come." He lit a cigarette. "I mean, that's if you want to. I'm not
making anybody do anything."
"South Carolina?" Chris sniffled.
"Yeah, man, old Myrtle herself. Beach, I mean."
"Right on the beach," he said. "There's nothing like it. On the beach at
night, the sky looks like it wants to swallow you whole. And the way the
moon shimmers off the waves; it's magic, man."
I looked over at Chris.
"You're not seriously considering, Chris, you have school. Your mom,
"Shut up about my mom," he said.
The bugs had gotten worse. The fire died as molten coals radiated in its
ashes. I was beginning to feel the first eddies of sickness from the alcohol.
"Hey, little dude, you don't have to worry about other people." Burt laid
more branches on the fire. "I can handle other people."
"What does that mean?" I asked, disbelieving that the question had
escaped my mouth .
"Oh, it just means that I've been on my own for some time now and
I've picked up few tricks."
He stood to stretch.
"Like, when I need something to eat, I go into a store and fill a cart with
all sorts of shit, only I don't intend on buying any of it. Well except the real
stuff that I've put in there, which is usually some beans in a can or Spam or
drinks or whatever."
I watched him step back and then forward, leaning against a tree for
balance. I noted that he wasn't wearing shoes.
"How do you think I got that little ditty you been sipping on all night? I
can get by. And Chris, if you want to come, I'm leaving tomorrow."
"I don't know, man," Chris said.
"Oh, you have second thoughts? That's too bad, my friend."
"Do you work for Con- Agra or not?" I asked, wanting so bad to zip my
"What the fuck is Con- Agra?"
"It's this thing, you know, like a game? See, we ask if you work for
someone we think is cool, you know," I lied.
"And if you say the right things then we think you're cool," Chris added.
"What do they do?" Burt asked.
"No, don't work there. But, I hope I'm cool enough for you two."
"Uh, yeah, man," I said.
"Totally cool," Chris said. "You gave us booze."
"Yeah, I did, didn't I? So you coming with me?" he looked down at us
from his tree-lean holding something in his hand. I couldn't make out if it
were a pocket knife or his can opener. I could see a sliver of metal whenever
he swung out his arm. I could tell that Chris could see this too, but as sick as
I was, I didn't think I would be able to run let alone fight a grown man with a
"I think we should get back. Our mom's, my mom, is supposed to pick us
up in like ten minutes. She can get pretty pissed at times."
"That's plenty of time to make up your minds," he said. "Look, I've got
something really cool to show you. You can't tell a soul, okay? If you come
with me, we can do the town, man. I mean Monroe, Myrtle Beach, Boston,
Fucking New York City."
"That's nice but we really have to go." Chris stood.
"Oh no, man, stay, I've got something to show you. It's really cool."
"Where is it?" I asked.
"It's in the tent."
"I didn't see anything in the tent," Chris said.
"Are you calling me ... a liar, young man? I'm truly hurt here." He
grabbed his chest, letting go of the tree and standing straight. His torso
narrowed and his whipcord body tensed in the firelight. He glistened.
"No, I'm not calling you a liar, Burt. It's just that, I didn't see
anything in the tent."
"Well, maybe it's because you weren't looking hard enough. Look
again and I promise you'll see it." He grinned. His eyes darkened,
becoming the encroaching night. His nose lengthened in the shadows.
I took a step back, careful to step over the tent stake. Burt smiled wide
showing his teeth. He rubbed his stomach and belched.
"Okay," he said. "Maybe we got on the wrong foot here. I invited
you to spend some time on the beach relaxing and looking at beautiful
naked women year round. Now that's not so bad, is it? I mean, you'd
have to be queer to refuse that kind of offer."
He tilted his head and stepped closer.
"You guys aren't queer, are you?"
His hand went behind his back.
"I'm sorry. Kidding, I love everyone. Remember, Chris, Vietnam?
Your mom? Tommy, you being too small for sports?"
"I never said that."
"We bonded, man," Burt said.
He walked closer and stuck out his hand with the other behind his
"Okay, okay, here, I'm sorry. I apologize." he said. "It gets lonely
out here and sometimes I just need a friend. Are you going to take my
hand? Are you going to deny me friendship?"
Chris kicked the fire, spreading hot coals, ash, and dirt all over him.
Burt stepped back yelling and rubbing coals off his legs. Chris and I ran
in separate directions through the woods. I ran until my lungs burned.
I could hear Burt yelling for us to come back. He kept saying he was
sorry and that he wasn't mad at us. I hid behind a fallen log, listening to
him yell for us. I crept through the woods in what I hoped was the right
direction. I had to get back to the alley. Most important, I had to find
I pushed my way through the woods, listening for Burt and checking
behind me. Every time I looked back, I imagined him running toward me
with a gleaming blade and a mad grin. I kept walking, not stopping once
to worry about possible rattlesnakes hunting at night. After what felt like
an endless jaunt, I stopped to listen. My ability to see at night had been
slightly altered by the alcohol but my ears were perfect radars.
I heard the swish-rumbling of a Con- Agra rig and right then knew that
the highway wasn't too far away. I followed the sound until I came to the
edge of the woods. The welcoming emptiness of the highway was the most
comforting sight in my entire life. I ran toward the road, slipping in the
ditch and falling to my knees, sliding with velocity. My knees and palms
were muddy but I didn't care. I didn't care that dirt was getting into the
scrapes in my palms. I ran down the blacktop. Chris emerged from the
woods several yards from where I escaped. We met up with each other and
hauled ass back to the alley, not looking over our shoulders.
We made it back in time to catch my mom walking in the front door. We
called to her from the parking lot. When she saw our muddy and disheveled
appearances, she asked what had happened. We lied and told her that
we had gotten into a fight with some kids who had already left. We were
chewed out for fighting. I never told her the truth. I doubted that she would
Days later, we went back to Burt's campsite but he was gone. The only
trace of him at all was the tin lid to a can of Spam. I haven't been back
since but plan to someday. Recently, I have decided to move on. I think
my search for what it is I'm looking for is leading me to another place. My
Yesterday I got an email from Chris. He works as a consultant for
a computer company outside of Dallas. His mother was moved to an
apartment complex for special needs patients and is. from what I hear,
thriving. Reading the message, I was happy to hear how things had turned
out for him.
How's everything? We're okay. Mary Catherine is turning nvo in a
couple of days and we 're due for another one soon. A son, can you believe
it! I think I'm going to name him CJ. Do you remember Burt? Of course
you do. How could we forget? I stumbled on this link I think you should
check out. Let me know what you think.
The link led me to an FBI wanted poster. It shocked me, but at the same
time made perfect sense. The man's name was Leo Frederick Burt, and he'd
been on the run for nearly forty years. This man, Leo Burt, was wanted for the
1970 bombing of Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin. There was a
reward of $150,000 for information leading to an arrest. Apparently, Leo Burt
had installed the car bomb that killed a physics researcher and maimed several
others. According to the article, Leo Burt was part of a group of militant
anti-war protestors who, ironically, used violence to bring attention to the
atrocities that were happening during the Vietnam War. Our Burt had said he
was a "searcher;" a paratrooper.
The wanted poster called him "The Wisconsin Ghost." In the rest of his
message, Chris suggested I go back to the woods where we found him in
1994. He joked that we could split the reward money if he was back, but I
doubt he'll ever be back.
I don't know that there ever was a Monroe or a Myrtle Beach in his future,
but I do believe he was a desperate man and we may have or not have been
in danger that night. Still, taking the highway that leads in front of that tree
line makes me anxious. Sometimes, I picture him stepping over the ditch and
walking east toward the morning sun, his eyes squinting in the bright early
light. I see him walk out of town and into nowhere. And sometimes, I can hear
him calling us back down into those woods.